When Mary Witt was 24 years old, she lost her leg to bone cancer. Now, 26 years later, she will walk through the night Saturday during Relay For Life of Eagle County in the name of remembrance and survival.
Witt was in college when she was first diagnosed. Her family knew she had cancer, but she had no idea.
“The doctor had given me six months to a year to live,” she said. “The doctors told my family, but my family decided that they wouldn’t tell me. They knew me, and they knew I was gonna do what I was told; if they told me I was gonna die, chances were I was gonna die.”
Witt said that even throughout the initial chemo treatments, she had no idea of her terminal prognosis.
Finally, Witt confronted her mom about the true severity of the cancer. Rumors had gotten around at school, and Witt’s roommate had asked if the worst case was true.
“My mom looked over at me and said ‘yeah, that’s what they told us. … We didn’t know if we should tell you or not.’
“The mind is so powerful,” Witt said. “If they told me I was going to die, I probably would have listened on some level — even if it was subconscious.”
Witt beat the odds, but within three years, the cancer had come back.
“I had to make a decision to live with one leg or die with two,” she said. “Actually, it wasn’t even a hard decision.”
Walking for life
Witt is a local physical therapist, and she is now on her ninth prosthetic leg. This year will be her second time participating in Relay For Life of Eagle County. She said she was originally hesitant to get involved, but that her first experience was “really amazing.”
“It was hard because I am OK, and I didn’t want to even go there,” she said. “But it was very peaceful and truly awesome — walking all night and seeing all those stars.”
Relay For Life is a event in affiliation with the American Cancer Society, raising funds and awareness to battle cancer worldwide. On Saturday, the 12-hour overnight walk returns to Eagle County for the first time since 2012, and Witt and her husband, Paul, are co-chairs for the event.
“It’s exciting that we are all getting this going again,” Paul Witt said. “It has had a great run before in Eagle County, then we took a year off to rethink and reorganize.”
He said the event is a lot of fun and creates a great sense of community through the energy that the participants and teams bring.
“It starts off with great energy, and it ends with great energy, and in the middle I think is when you get to thinking about why you are out here doing it,” Paul Witt said. “It’s a strong feeling, like I am making a difference, and at least I am out here doing something and trying to help.”
He said that Relay For Life of Eagle County raises money for the American Cancer Society in general, but that a lot of the funds are used in programs locally and throughout the state.
So far this year, there are 68 people on 17 teams (as of press time) raising money and walking for the event.
One team, Mary Witt said, is designated for individuals who want time to walk and reflect on their own.
“We want to get 100 people up and walking,” she said. “We want people to know that the event is back.”
The Witts will walk again this year with their sons, David and Sebastian. Their son Ben has created another team called “Student of Survivors,” and will walk with some of his high school peers.
Seventeen-year-old Eagle Valley High School senior Matt Genelin lost his mom to colon cancer in 2008. Since that time, he said he has raised almost $20,000 in cancer-related fundraisers, including St. Baldrick’s Foundation and Relay For Life.
“I like giving back to what saved us when my mom was going through treatment,” he said. “Everything is so expensive, and I like raising money and giving back to people who are in that position right now — where we were five years ago.”
This year will be Genelin’s third time participating in Relay For Life.
“The first time I did Relay For Life was with my mom,” he said. “It was down in Denver in 2006, and then I didn’t do it again until two years ago.”
He said he likes the camaraderie of the event, and the memories of support he has fostered. This year, he will walk with the Witts’ team.
“I am looking forward to a big turnout, a lot of support and a lot of fun,” Genelin said.
Mary said the night walk offers a deep course of reflection.
“For me, it’s just a reminder that I am still here,” she said. “My mom died two years ago from ovarian cancer, but I am still here. Nighttime is the best time to be at peace and to think, so it’s my little celebration; it’s my own little peace that I am still here and will be here for a long time.”
For some, Witt said, it’s a time to reflect on a person, when individuals can be in touch with someone they have lost.
“For a lot of people, it’s time to remember,” she said. “When Matt’s dad walked two years ago, he walked by himself. You could just see that he was talking to her. It was very emotional, very touching.”